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Facing Our Powerlessness

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Facing Our Powerlessness

Tuesday 15, August 2017 by Kuladharini

It’s heartbreaking to be so powerless in the face of spiraling deaths as a result of substance use. I try to become enraged but I can’t. I just feel defeated by it.

To contemplate the enormous range of conditions that have contributed to the 867 deaths where drugs were a causal factor and then try to find a culprit on whom to focus my wannabe rage helps no one.  Neither does my hopelessness.

The relentless escalation of loss of life in the face of drug initiatives, extensive support for treatment services across Scotland and even the sweeping victories of our new recovery movement presents me with a challenging paradox.

That the losses from addictions and substance use are growing AND the gains from recovery from addictions are growing too.

Such a paradox is difficult to hold without seeking out a temporary and delusory refuge in the habit of trying to shift the burden of blame. This can have us all chasing our tails, covering our backs and saying it’s not my fault and pointing the finger somewhere else.

Drug addiction does not sit alone as somehow different to alcohol addiction or nicotine addiction. They are all substances used by people in our country at levels that harm their health and the lives of people around them. Trying to put a moat around drug addiction and sort it out separate from other addictions is madness. Deaths from alcohol use are rising too, last year these deaths were double that of the drug related deaths. Nearly 10,000 people die every year in Scotland from nicotine use.

Scotland is not alone in experiencing this, the rest of the UK have spiraling drug (and alcohol) related deaths too, the USA is experiencing what it is calling an opioid epidemic as well as a relentless rise in alcohol related deaths. It’s a western world deadlock. Something we are all doing; despite different treatment systems and funding levels for it, despite different drug strategies and despite different healthcare systems, is contributing to the rising loss of individual lives. 

Bruce Alexander in his epic work “The Globalisation of Addiction” points to a common theme in the rise of addiction - he calls it 'dislocation'. Essential human relationships are disrupted and severed by the relentless drive for economically based societies in the western world. The globalised economy is having a negative impact on the very humans that inhabit it. The solace we take for the wounds to our physical and mental health is killing us in greater numbers. We need to invest in building community, he suggests. Connected communities have stronger resilience to these forces. 

Some countries are breaking this Western deadlock, they have stopped prosecuting people for having a drug or alcohol problem, the money that would have been used in policing is spent on building better community for all.  In Portugal, they have made substantial reductions in loss of life this way. In Iceland, they have invested deeply in community activity and support for young people, building strong after school activities and parental support. Guess what? They are not so interested in substance use now. 

We are a small country, more connected as a result of our size; can we use this natural strength to create a whole community response to addictions and mental health?  I pray we can... 

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